Hillary Clinton’s Nomination is Historic Because of Her Mistakes, Not In Spite of Them

It’s official: Hillary Clinton is history’s first female presidential nominee for a major political party.  Many on twitter responded to this historic moment with the remark “wish it was a better candidate”.

It was never going to be.

Charlotte Whitton may have cursed ambitious women everywhere when she said ““Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”  Nonsense.  It is difficult, and women shouldn’t be expected to achieve greater outcomes to be seen as equal to men.  Nonetheless, Whitton’s quote is essentially the story of Hillary Clinton.

It’s easy, in the year 2016, to underestimate just how much of Clinton’s narrative was set in the early 1980s, a less gender-equal time when Hillary Clinton was caught between those who hated her for being too “uppity” and ambitious and those who couldn’t stand her for being too traditional.  Clinton is a complex case study as an intelligent, ambitious woman who married a man who couldn’t keep it in his pants.  While Bill was governor and president, Hillary was caught in a difficult spot: embracing the reality of what was going on would destroy her family, since she gave up her own aspirations for his, and she had the future of her daughter to think about.

Yes, she attacked Gennifer Flowers, but any other wife could probably be forgiven for being less than kind to the woman who slept with her husband.  Hillary hasn’t been, all these years later.  And yet she keeps going.

While Bill was president, she was, again, demonized because she wanted to do more than pick out china patterns.  Not only was Hillary crucified for “Hillarycare”, but she doesn’t get any credit from many Sanders supporters for her attempts to promote the closest thing to universal healthcare that any US government has attempted.  Hillary was also demonized in connection to Bill’s infidelity.  Again.  There was the Whitewater scandal, Travelgate, Filegate, and Vince Foster’s death.  It was a period of a lot of smoke – driven by Republicans – but no fire, and the words “no credible evidence” were spoken a lot.  The Lewinsky scandal was the one thing that the Republicans managed to hang on Bill Clinton, because he lied about the affair under oath.  It was the one home run in a period where the Republican crucifixion of Clinton struck out a lot.

It was during this period that Hillary Clinton got the reputation for being a liar.  Mostly because she was Bill’s biggest character witness.  There’s no evidence that Hillary was lying as opposed to repeating the lies she was told, but in politics, people don’t tend to let the truth get in the way of a good story.  And yet she keeps going.

Don’t get me wrong, she made some mistakes in this period.  Everyone makes mistakes.  It’s baffling to me that Hillary Clinton is being blamed for any decisions during this time, however, since she had no official power.

Despite Bill’s disgraceful impeachment, Hillary rebuilt, and her ambitions were on the rise as a senator who was willing to reach across the aisle.  However, her admirable Senate record was marred by a single vote – the one in support of the Iraq war.  28 other Democratic Senators – a majority of Democrats in the senate at the time — did the same thing, including Joe Biden, Harry Reid, and John Kerry.

There’s background to this too, however.  After 9/11, a Senator from New York was as much expected to be a hawk on any country alleged to be connected to the attack on the World Trade Center, as a Senator from Vermont was expected to be more lax on guns than the average liberal.  I also remember the pundit class insisting Clinton had to vote for the war to show “a woman could do it”.  Many people today don’t care about these mitigating factors, and that’s sad, since people are products of their times, and there’s only so much a person can do when they’re fighting against bias regarding portions of their identity.

9/11 also made the urban population in America soil their shorts in terror.  Time has blunted the emotional impact of that event.  The Iraq Resolution was a complete con job by the Bush administration, which used it to authorize a war, then ignored every limitation the resolution was supposed to place on the executive branch.

However, even if you think there was no excuse for Clinton’s support of the second Iraq war, a person must be judged on their successes as well as their failures.  That’s not happening.  And yet she keeps going.

Another complaint among Clinton haters is her “untrustworthy” record regarding LGBTQ rights, notably marriage equality.  As early as 1999, Clinton was offering support for “same-sex unions”, which back then was a way to support gay marriage without offending those of more traditional religious persuasions.  That was actually a progressive stance back then.

I was to the left of Clinton at that time.  Back then, I was pointing out that there was really no difference between a civil union and a civil marriage, so why not just call it marriage?  All marriages done without a religious official involved are civil unions.  But since I was there at that time, I also remember how strong the homophobia was.  Any politician who would even consider the idea of some sort of legally recognized same-sex-relationships status was extremely important.  This idea that Clinton is somehow a secret homophobe is ludicrous, but it’s widespread.  We have to question why.

Her opponent for the Democratic nomination in 2008 was no better at that time regarding same-sex marriage.  A lot of people were not ready to support marriage equality.  Back then, the priority was getting gay couples official recognition as next of kin.  In that context, we didn’t give a damn what a politician called it.  There were a lot of people opposing the idea that gay couples should have any official status at all.  There still are, despite the supreme court decision.

Hillary haters also love to ignore the fact that the 2008 primary was much closer than the tally in 2016.  By some accounts, Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote.  By any account, the pledged delegate count between Obama and Clinton —  1766.5 to 1639.5 — was actually closer than the gap between Clinton and Sanders — 2205 to 1846.  It was a three-way race that year with John Edwards.  Back then, it was a big deal that the Democratic party, en masse, revolted against the idea of another Clinton in the White House.  They wanted someone more to the left, and they put their thumb on the scale.  That practice in the DNC isn’t a new thing, and I’m not sure that it’s going to change.

2008 was another contest the superdelegates decided.  There was much less agreement, even among those party insiders, on the outcome.  Clinton showed exceptional leadership in defeat, enthusiastically working to unite the party.  She gets no credit now for that.  And yet she keeps going.

She became a popular and competent Secretary of State.  Her greatest achievements weren’t “texts from Hillary” or a cease fire in the Middle East.  It was what didn’t happen.  The debacles avoided.  But once again, one thing went catastrophically wrong: Benghazi.

Benghazi, at first glance, seems like an undeniable cock up.  Mistakes were definitely made, and people died.  But the Republicans successfully separated Benghazi from a much larger historical context.  Firstly, the State Department was dealing with a security budget shortfall of $270 million thanks to Republicans slashing spending in practically every level of government under threat of a government shutdown.  Secondly, deadly attacks on US embassies and embassy personnel are not uncommon.  During George W. Bush’s administration, 39 attacks occurred, and 20 of those attacks resulted in fatalities.  The total number of deaths from these attacks, according to Politifact, was 87 people.  These deaths are seen by some as “less important” because they weren’t Americans, and they certainly weren’t American ambassadors.  So much for “all lives matter”.

Still, at least 3 US civilians were killed in embassy attacks during Dubya’s tenure.  Security breaches are to Hillary what extra-marital affairs are to Bill – plenty of politicians do it, but it’s only a catastrophe if your name is Clinton.  That doesn’t excuse sloppy security or adultery.  It just indicates that there is, indeed, some element of double standard.  This double standard has cost taxpayers millions of dollars  in wasted expenditures.

Out of the numerous Benghazi investigations came the private server scandal, and the Republicans finally had an unequivocal mistake on Clinton’s part.  If we lived in a logical world, it should have been a minor mistake: not only did both Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell use personal email during their tenures as Secretary of State, but Powell used a very-much-not-secure AOL account.  They both sent and received classified information, or at least information that eventually became classified.  Dubya just made that totally okay to do via an executive order that said the Secretary of State had the power to classify and declassify any document created by the State Department.

Clinton’s explanation that she thought using private email was okay because others before her had done it actually has an element of plausibility.  No one cares.

That wasn’t the mistake.  The mistake was thinking that the game was fair.  That far into her political career, Hillary Clinton should have been well aware that if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.  Especially if your name is Clinton.

All that brings the total of major mistakes Clinton has made since 1979 to a whopping total of twelve unforced errors.

Twelve major mistakes.  In 37 years.  I wish I had that track record.  Hell, Donald Trump screws up twelve times in a month!

But that’s twelve more big mistakes than many people are used to seeing a woman make, because woman having enough power to make such mistakes is a fairly recent phenomenon.  Similarly loathed women in history have included Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel,  Julia Gillard, Sarah Palin, and Nancy Reagan.  It’s not that these women were free of mistakes.  It’s that the criticism of them went beyond the mistakes they actually made into the illogical grey area of “unlikeability”.

Popular male politicians like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton can make some pretty massive mistakes and still have high approval ratings.  George W. Bush is still received with respect despite breaking the world.  Meanwhile, women in high-ranking political positions are crucified for every stumble.

This isn’t my opinion.  This is history.  Something is up here.

Clinton’s 2008 concession to Barack Obama gave women everywhere an example of how to fail with grace, and we very much need those examples.  Becoming a woman is a ritualized, systematic, hiding of flaws: we conceal facial flaws with makeup, bodily flaws with uncomfortable “support garments”, hair dye for grey hair, plastic surgery for everything else, and a coy smile in place of voiced opinions.  Brainy women, at least in my 80s era generation, had an extra layer of mistake-driven terror: we were right a lot, so when we were wrong, everyone around us swarmed like piranhas to laugh and jeer at our failure.  Guess we weren’t better than them after all!  Guess we weren’t really so smart!

There was a fear, not so long ago, that smart, opinionated women would have trouble attracting husbands.  There was no template for where we belonged as women other than Velma from Scooby Doo which… didn’t help.  Anne of Green Gables was a somewhat better role model, as was Jo from Little Women, but those books were written in an age where becoming a schoolteacher or a writer was like being a CEO today.  These were hardly great examples of career aspirations.

Women like Hillary Clinton, women like me, are still considered “shrews”, “bitches”, “harpies” and other less kind descriptions.  There are no equivalent insults leveled at men.

It’s one thing to say that women can be president in the abstract.  It’s a different thing entirely to show us how that can be done.  Hillary Clinton is doing that, one unsure, paranoid step at a time, with thin ice below her, that cracked glass ceiling above.  It’s a precarious place, and even if you hate her, she’s earned your respect.

Respect is what’s left when you don’t really like someone.  The media has given us little reason to like Hillary Clinton.  However, her persistence, her ability to just keep going and just keep things done… that’s worthy of our respect.

Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination isn’t a major milestone in spite of her mistakes.  It’s because of them.  She set an example for women everywhere that flaws and failure are not the end.

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The Sarkeesian Sexism in Uncharted 4

(Warning: Spoilers for Uncharted 4, blahblahblah)

I really enjoyed Uncharted 4, as I have enjoyed all the Uncharted games.  They’re top notch in many ways, and I recommend them.  What they are not, however, is feminist.  That’s okay.  They don’t have to be.  I still like them.

But it’s important to point out that the Uncharted games are homages to serial adventure stories, and those include some decidedly dated gender-based tropes. In order to effectively modernize the adventure serial, its important to recognize these tropes for what they are.

So it’s baffling to me that Anita Sarkeesian fan Neil Druckmann, the creative director on the game, decided to shame a playtester on Uncharted 4 who, among other things, had the reaction that many gamers are having to the second generation mercenary character, Nadine Ross.  He got pissed off that Nadine seemed like a “Strong Female Character” instead of a developed character.

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I totally disagree with the playtester’s additional opinions on giving Nate and Elena a daughter, but playtesting is supposed to be a confidential process where people are honest about their feelings.  People don’t sign up to be mocked by the devs for having an honest reaction because that reaction was wrong.  You want unfiltered feedback, even if its stupid.  You can’t get that if playtesters think you might mock them in the press for political correctness points.

And that playtester wasn’t wrong about Nadine Ross.

The very thing that creates weaknesses in Nadine as a character was the Sarkeesian-inspired thing Druckmann is patting himself on the back for: changing male characters into female ones “to be different” instead of creating female characters from the outset.

Nadine is a stock character with a makeover.  Remember the big sub boss dude in Raiders of the Lost Ark that Indiana Jones fought around the airplane?

That’s the role Nadine plays in Uncharted 4.  And yes, absolutely, that character kicks the crap out of the hero unless the hero fights dirty.  But there’s a physicality to that character trope that isn’t there with Nadine: these characters tend to look physically intimidating, not like retired supermodels on high protein diets with gym-sculpted shoulders.

Nadine fell into a trope that didn’t end up on Tropes vs Women: Superwoman Syndrome.  Superwoman Syndrome is a state recognized by post-second wave feminists as a “double enslavement” of women.  Not only are women now supposed to be perfect wives and homemakers, but we’re supposed to be perfect at everything else too.

The problem with Superwoman Syndrome is that it’s impossible to be perfect at everything.  So the ongoing attempts to be perfect at everything wear women down and make us physically and mentally sick.  It’s a uniquely profound issue for black women, something Nadine’s motion capture actress, Laura Bailey, couldn’t bring to the part because Naughty Dog cast a white woman.  That’s the developer’s right, but in light of how the character turned out, I think it’s fair to criticize them for that decision.

The film Deadpool uses the same type of character, but did it right.  When audiences first see Gina Carano’s Angel Dust character, they have the same reaction that they did to that guy in Indiana Jones,  “Oh my freaking god nothing is going to stop that human tank.”  Carano brought a physical presence that was appropriate for the part, and the very same guys complaining about Nadine absolutely love Carano in that role.  It isn’t about misogyny.  It’s about failing to replicate the requirements of the trope in the switch from male to female.

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With Superwoman Syndrome comes a tightening of the beauty myth.  Gina Carano smashed it in Deadpool because she was physically large, but still beautiful and desirable.  But she’s an exception that proves the larger rule that in most media, women look like models no matter what they’re supposed to be playing.  Cops look like models.  Firefighters look like models.  Doctors look like models.  So real life female cops don’t tend to look like the ones you see on TV, while real life male cops do.  That becomes a PR problem for real life first responders.

The social impact goes deeper than that, however.  The body type that keeps getting replicated is decidedly and profoundly white.  The b-to-c-cup breasts, boyish hips, and the lean muscle; the slightly freckled skin and “modest” Western dress that are the hallmarks of Sarkeesian-brand false-feminist character design… this rigid standard marginalizes the beauty paradigms of other cultures.  Latina and Black women have to reclaim their fuller hips and “Oakland booties” to get around accusations that their natural bodies are fat or obscene.  The fear of naked female bodies is colonial thinking.

All Sarkeesian’s followers have done is swap one set of racist, sexist ideals for another, instead of actually reducing racism and sexism.  They’ve just created another trope: The Sarkeesian.  It’s no less sexist to force a woman to conform to the Sarkeesian — a woman who is the embodiment of “strong” until the point that strength might threaten or offend — than, say, a Ms Male Character.

Ellie in The Last of Us and Angel Dust in Deadpool were embraced, because they are not Sarkeesians.  Trishka in Bulletstorm is not a Sarkeesian.  They have personalities and say and do deliberately offensive or “unfeminine” things.  Nadine doesn’t have quotable lines, a distinct look, or any sort of swagger or spark, because those might put someone off.  A Sarkeesian trope character never offends with intent.  That’s what makes them so offensive.

As I said, no one expects the Uncharted games to be paragons of political correctness.  The four most prominent characters in Uncharted 4 — Nate, Sully, Nate’s brother, and the main bad guy – are all white, cisgendered men.  Uncharted games have always been bromances, and that’s fine.  There’s a place for that.  Just don’t piss in my ear and tell me it’s raining feminism.

Furthermore, making a game about men doesn’t mean there’s license to get lazy with the writing of the female characters who ARE included.  There’s a distinct, if subtle, difference in how certain plot and character points are handled in Uncharted 4 than in the previous Uncharted games… when the games were written by a woman, Amy Hennig.  I have never been a big fan of Elena Fisher, but Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3 did a lot to pull her away from her stock character “feisty Girl Friday love interest” origins in the original game.  Of course, a lot of men love Elena for the very reasons I despise her in Uncharted and Uncharted 4 – she enables Nate’s truly bad behaviour.

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Elena doesn’t, I believe, get nearly angry enough when Nate yet again lies to her for no good reason.  Of course, it’s very possible that Elena was furious when she first discovered her husband had lied to her a-gain, but we never see that, because her wifely rage happens off screen.  So despite the piles of laundry in their house, Elena is still a Superwoman: she doesn’t have limits or boundaries where a fully-formed woman would.

Nate, and the player, is never truly confronted with the depths of what lying does to your partner.  The game does not confront the player with Elena’s raw, authentic feelings in response to being deceived.  Where Ellie swore, yelled, cried, and smashed stuff in The Last of Us, Elena pouts and offers sage words of understanding.  We don’t see the depths and immediacy of Elena’s pain, we don’t empathize with her the way we do Ellie, because we never see Elena at her worst, so she’s not totally real.

Because Elena is the perfect wife who only gets angry in perfect, private ways.  I’m sure I’m not the only woman who plays this game who has been married long enough to go “Oh come on!  That’s BULLSHIT.”

Oh but we’re not supposed to have that reaction, see?  We’re supposed to be “understanding” and “supportive” partners.  Because when our husband FEELZ BAD, the dutiful wife understands that it’s okay that he acts like an irresponsible manchild instead of discussing the situation like a grown up.  We’re supposed to accept that this is just the way men are.

Bullshit.  Bullshit bullshit bullshit.  There are different ways to be a man, but grown up men are honest.  Lying to your spouse about important things is the fastest way to destroy a marriage.  Nate and Elena broke up multiple times because of his immaturity.  He was supposed to have grown up some at the end of Uncharted 3, which is why they got back together and everyone cheered.

But in Uncharted 4, he’s back to being a dishonest baby, and Elena lets him be a dishonest baby with smiles, loving stokes to his face, and little more than the occasional pout.  He’s worn her down, and at this point she’s accepted that he’s going to lie to her whenever it’s convenient for him to do so, as long as he’s sorry later.  When a partner lies for that long, that consistently, he’s going to keep lying.  He has to want to change not to stop her from leaving — which is still manipulating things to get a desired outcome — but because he realizes that lying to her shows her no respect.  (The same goes for when women lie.  Just in this case, Nate and Elena are a heterosexual couple and the lying partner is male.)

So Nate and Elena go off into domestic bliss, where she never again sets hard boundaries because he’ll just lie his way around them.  Yes, that’s not what the game is supposed to have us believe, but that’s what someone like me, who has been married for seventeen years, sees.  A hard lesson of marriage is that feeling bad isn’t enough.  In order for your partner to trust you, you can’t keep doing the same crap to them over and over.

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Nate and Elena do not have a believable, healthy marriage of equals.  They are a manboy married to a Superwoman.  That’s disappointing, because those marriages don’t tend to last in the real world.  A cycle of passive aggressive resentment forms because the Elena is constantly biting down her anger to be “supportive” and the Nate justifies a string of “white” lies because he doesn’t want to trouble the little wife with the truth.  If he does, she might say no.

These sorts of on-screen marriages are a sexist trope that gets replicated to falsely portray women as superior people in inferior positions.  Since we have to give cutesy names to all these tropes now, let’s call it “Wifey McAwesomesauce”.  Wifey McAwesomesauce is also seen in numerous sitcoms, in which no one can quite figure out why a mature, competent woman is married to Schlubby McScrewup.  Wifey McAwesomesauce has a great job, great clothes, great hair, and raised great kids.  Schlubby McScrewup is a misandrist stereotype who can’t change a diaper, make a school lunch, or drop the kids off without “hilarious” calamity.  And yet the show is always about Schlubby McScrewup because no one actually cares what’s going on in Wifey McAwesome’s mind.  Her perfect perfectness of perfection is only there to validate the comic struggles of her schlub husband.  It’s a rare sitcom, like All In The Family, Roseanne, and Blackish, where the spouses actually seem believably matched.  In these sitcoms, both partners screw up, and they actually yell at each other.  Like, really yell.  The way people do in real life.  The way Elena didn’t yell at Nate.

I’m not saying Naughty Dog should change any of this.  It’s a particular brand of escapist male fantasy, and that’s fine, since the tradition in which the games exist is soaking in that stuff.  But Naughty Dog doesn’t get to play in that sandbox and also collect “Great Male Feminist” points.  Elena may put on a few non-perfect post-baby pounds if they keep trying to have their cake and eat it too.

 

Note: Someone on twitter asked me what I would have changed in Elena’s reaction to make her seem more real.  There are various ways to do that.  A complex way would have been bonus content that allowed the player to play through, as Elena, discovering Nate lied, so we got to see her reaction.  A much faster way would be to have her be less damned nice to him right off the bat.  Saving his life is one thing, but it would have been more satisfying if she saved him without forgiving him right away.  We lost out on a lot of good potential dialogue because Elena was too nice to be fun.

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Elbowgate: False Feminism in Canadian Parliament

I don’t normally write about politics because 1) It’s depressing, 2) way too many people do it, and 3) it’s a great way to get people screaming at you.  But the events this week surrounding Elbowgate are just too stupid to ignore.

Elbowgate is named for the fact that, in a breach of the snooty decorum of Canada’s parliament, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rose again after being seated for a session, crossed the floor over to Conservative Whip Gordon Brown – who was with a group of NDP MPs – and… accounts vary depending on who is telling the story.  Either Trudeau led Brown by the arm to his seat, or Trudeau manhandled Brown like a bully.  After viewing the video, it looks to me like it wasn’t exactly helping an old lady crossing the street, but it wasn’t what Donald Trump’s campaign manager is alleged to have done to reporter Michelle Fields.   This, however, was not the eponymous elbow.  That came from the fact that while Trudeau was herding Brown, he accidentally elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest.

It looked like a pretty painful elbow.  Justin Trudeau did a bad thing.  It was not, however, gender-based violence or the deliberate battery of an MP.  And the Conservative and NDP attempts to make it into more than it was backfired, because their outrage made light of some pretty serious issues in an attempt to lower the Prime Minister’s popularity.

Still, this is a wake up call for the Prime Minister.  He isn’t just a politician.  He is a bonafide celebrity.  Like any celebrity, Trudeau is prey to negative twists on his less glorious moments by haters who hate his stupid face.  Tom Mulcair seems to especially despise the young Prime Minister for reasons I haven’t yet been able to establish.  It’s commonly known that the bad blood between the two seems personal, but the reasons why aren’t public.  For the Conservative Party, however, Trudeau is bad for business.  He’s good for Liberal fundraising, and that took away the money advantage that the Conservatives enjoyed for quite some time.  This isn’t the first time they’ve attempted a petty distortion of facts in an attempt to make Trudeau look artificially bad.  Remember those attack ads that started even before the election?

Now, as then, however, Trudeau will likely weather this storm.   The gleeful pearl clutching by his enemies did him a huge favour in that they’re handing Trudeau the potential for an unlikely pr win.

Trudeau hasn’t yet learned the first rule of celebrity: never be your own bad cop.  He needs to stay arms length from any direct unpleasantness lest he wear the mess.  This likely goes against his natural instincts to lead by example, but it’s necessary: Generals aren’t on the front lines for a reason.  Furthermore, Trudeau has had a history of getting worked up in the House.  As an MP, Trudeau had to apologize, rocking a Movember goatee, for calling Conservative Environment Minister Peter Kent a “piece of shit.”

You’ll note in that video that Parliament is a pretty boisterous place.  It can be downright juvenile at times.  This is one of the reasons why the NDP and Conservative attempts to make Trudeau seem like a puppy killer just remind Canadians that while Trudeau is not a perfect PM, the Liberals are still the most deserving to lead… Not that this is saying much right now.

Like Hugh Grant after being caught with a hooker, Trudeau is now on another apology tour. The Liberals made the right call withdrawing a controversial bill, called Motion 6, to give them more power, even if they did so for the wrong reasons.  The damage control is proving effective: despite the Conservatives’ protests to the contrary, these actions are a change of both tone and substance from the iron fist rule of the Harper regime, and Canadians tend to be forgiving of prime ministers who get physical — it undermines the Canadian stereotype of being milquetoast-level nice.

However, Trudeau’s sensitive feminist man image would have been left notably bruised, had the opposition parties not acted like bigger idiots.  Elizabeth May was the only party leader with the sense to put practicality above short term political gain, and emerged as the lone grown up in the whole thing.  “I think it’s likely there may have been blame on all sides in leading to the escalation,” May said.  That’s about the best summary of events out there.

Rona Ambrose and Nikki Ashton reminded Canadians that those notorious gender cards come in multiple political colours, and Tom Mulcair reminded everyone why he’s not going to be the leader of the NDP for much longer by appearing to lose his temper worse than Trudeau lost his.  And Brosseau herself fumbled by trying to play up the “personal attacks” she’s received by reminding Canadians that she once took a vacation in Las Vegas in the middle of an election campaign.  The fact that she’s still complaining about the backlash from that makes her seem like a whiner.

At least it would make her seem like a whiner if she were a man.  The NDP seems to think that Brosseau being a woman is far more relevant in this situation than it is.

Both the Conservatives and the NDP are overselling their cases, and it’s stupid: Trudeau has a lot of time left in a very strong majority, so crying wolf now weakens future gut punches closer to an election where Canadians elect the best leader, not a perfect one.

Canadians understand someone losing their temper and doing something stupid.  They don’t understand claiming that taking hold of someone’s arm is a crime, or the idea that an accident is somehow a sign that parliament is unsafe for women.  These overreactions alienate the working class swing voters who decide elections, who are much more familiar with being on the wrong end of political correctness than being the victim of social injustices that primarily impact marginalized communities. False accusations of thought crimes are becoming those “kitchen table” issues the NDP believes they own.  The NDP, under Mulcair’s waning leadership, are making fools of themselves.

But the Conservatives are possibly playing this even worse, albeit more subtly. They got thumped in the last election, and Trudeau is still a Luke Skywalker figure who finally defeated Darth Harper.  Never mind that it wasn’t long ago that Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau was charged with actual sexual assault, then pled guilty to simple assault and cocaine possession. Brazeau is currently on a mini image-rehabilitation campaign by talking about trying to take his own life.  The party can’t ask Canadians to understand that good people sometimes do bad things one minute, then throw a tantrum on Trudeau for behaving like something out of an episode of Dallas the next.

The more noise that Elbowgate makes, the more light it throws on the shenanigans instigated by all three parties.  This all may make for a few barn burner fundraising emails, but otherwise its a big load of politicians acting like teenagers and committing premature outrage ejaculation.

Like it or not, politics is still a game of who has the biggest proverbial dick, and by not stooping to everyone else’s level, Elizabeth May won the political penis-measuring contest.  Trudeau came out in second place, however, just because the other two parties complained the room was cold.

I’m left to wonder whether this is all a way to avoid tackling, as the Supreme Court has mandated the government must, the thorny issue of assisted dying. Any bill that the government comes up with is going to piss off part of the opposition parties’ base: religious conservatives don’t like it because it interferes with “God’s plan”, and some advocates for the profoundly disabled who tend to vote NDP are concerned about what these laws will mean for the right to life of those for whom they advocate. They can’t, however, openly defy the Supreme Court, so they seem to be hoping to run the clock out to make the Liberals look unable to get things done.
Darth Harper showed, time and again, that it’s better to look like a bully than a weak leader.  So it might not have been a bad idea for Trudeau to literally go down swinging.  I know I’d rather vote for a guy who accidentally elbowed an MP who happened to be a woman than for either party who doesn’t understand that equality actually means equality, not treating women like we’re inherently less tough than men in politics. Again, Elizabeth May seems to have the biggest stones in Ottawa — Trudeau let himself be goaded into a PR debacle, and the NDP and Conservatives seem to think that the social problem of violence against women can be used for a cheap stunt.

Violence against anyone is wrong.  Violence against women is uniquely wrong because the implication is that the victim of the abuse can’t fight back.  Accidentally bumping a Member of Parliament is NOT violence against women.

The stupid games that happen while the House is sitting must end, but Elbowgate is more of the same, not the reform all parties claim to want.

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bell hooks, Beyonce, Spirit, and Feminism For Now

I’ve been watching the whole “bell hooks is sour on Beyoncé’s Lemonade” thing from the sidelines, afraid to comment because of the colour of my skin.  But I’ve gotten tired of “nodding respectfully”, and I want to approach this through a door hooks herself opened — her assertion that Lemonade being created primarily for a black female audience misses the point. “Commodities,” says hooks, “irrespective of their subject matter, are made, produced, and marketed to entice any and all consumers.”

I understand that I’m writing from adopted tradition.  I grew up with black people, but I’m obviously not one.  I do not claim ownership of black traditions or black culture, just an appreciation.  I don’t seek to be an appropriator.  But as a presumed outsider who sees some of the nods for black women, there’s no denying that Lemonade was made for black women.  And this matters, because the voices and art of black women matter.

hooks is interchanging the concepts of art, artist, and commodity in ways that are… duh duh duuuuuuuh… problematic.  In reducing Beyoncé’s highly metaphorical, some would say deeply personal, work of art to a good to be bought and sold, hooks is objectifying Beyoncé’s story.  Art is not a what.  Art is a who, a how, and a why.  We are sharing in Beyoncé’s message, not transferring ownership of it.  It cannot be reduced to object simply because a copy is purchased.  Lemonade will always be an extension of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter.

hooks, who for years has taught acolytes to rage against the dominance of the presumed white male audience, now claims Beyonce’s work on Lemonade can’t be presumed to be primarily for black women because it exists in a capitalist paradigm.  Because Beyoncé has learned to thrive in a capitalist system, hooks believes that her work cannot be considered feminist, never mind black feminist.

The reactions in the white media to Lemonade prove hooks wrong.  While watching an ABC News clip that teased the project, I was marveling at the glory of Beyoncé with her hair in cornrows, showing flashes of people in Voodoo face paint, when the perky middle America-friendly commentators said “fans have commented that it looks like something out of American Horror Story”.

I immediately hit pause so I could internally scream.  These “news” anchors were missing that Beyoncé was drawing from the same source as the third season of American Horror Story: Louisiana Voodoo.  That is her culture.  Her history.  She’s not copying a TV show.

There’s a level of ancestor worship in Lemonade that the gossip rag media doesn’t get, because most people who engage with Lemonade are only connecting to the surface elements of the work — the lyrics that talk about infidelity.  Yes, that’s commodity.  Female suffering will always sell albums.  However, there are images to consider as well in this visual album, and the references to voodoo, Antebellum America, and even embodying a goddess of love, seduction, and beauty, all ochre yellow robes and running water… these matter too.  They tell another, deeper story, of the historical struggles, myths, and personifications of black women in the Americas, and these images matter so deeply.  This is Queen Bey’s descent, Ishtar-like, into the underworld, stripping down, and emerging with her power returned.

hooks’ toolbox doesn’t factor in the very old, very subversive myths that Beyoncé is invoking.  Beyonce’s working magic older than the modern patriarchy, and hooks’ academically masculinized viewpoint, her phallic set of tools, are deaf to Beyoncé’s underlying messages.

I don’t see Lemonade as the story of Beyoncé’s reaction to Jay-Z cheating.  Artists do concept albums all the time, and the work speaks for itself.  I see Lemonade as a subversive musical history of black women who sang about their men and their Christian God because society wouldn’t let them sing publicly about anything else, but the Goddess was always hiding in the bedroom and the church.

Beyoncé is examining the role of black women in the media, in business, and in the home.  It’s daring, deep, brave, and artistic as all hell.  Yes, black women’s bodies have been uniquely sexualized.  Why not explore that?  Why not say something about that?  Beyoncé doesn’t just show herself as a wife of a cheating mogul.  She shows herself as a daughter, a sister, a mother, a business woman, and the sacred feminine too.  bell hooks fixated on the body, when Beyoncé was baring her soul.  bell hooks fixated on systems, while Beyoncé was invoking spirit.  bell hooks, in essence, politicized Beyoncé’s testimony, and you can’t politicize the Goddess without losing the divine spark.

And at least a dozen brilliant black women, who can connect in historical and personal ways that I can’t, stood up to bell hooks, thanked her for her past service, but emphatically told her she was wrong.

There’s magic in this.  Beyoncé’s message of unity resonated, and her sisterhood answered.  Lone gun academics like hooks who forsook the magic of her body to be “accepted” by the mainstream can’t understand the raw power in something like Lemonade.  Taken as a whole, I don’t think Lemonade is about one story of infidelity.  I think it’s an invocation that the “men cheating” narrative is a very old one, going back to some dark places in history, and Lemonade successfully shows there’s more to the story.

hooks herself got the uniquely Southern reference — the childhood memories of girls selling lemonade as a symbol of the female businesswoman — but got lost in her head and missed the call to the spirit of womanhood that is embodied in an angry goddess, smashing stuff because SHE CAN.  hooks may be afraid of sex, afraid of violence, and afraid of feeling anything below the waist because she sees it as a symptom of dominance, but the “goodbye to the good girl” truths in Beyonce’s form of feminism CAN BE TRUSTED, despite hooks’ claims to the contrary.  Lemonade is Beyoncé’s freedom cry, her assertion that there is so much more to her than the wife of a man who cheated. She is not just “the wife”.  She is not just “the voice”.  She is the spirit and the consciousness and she’s a modern day beauty goddess.  In the traditions Beyoncé is invoking, her goddess has a vindictive streak.  She is not a passive beauty.  So she can smash cars if she damned well wants to, even if it’s not the “right” thing to do.  We won’t overcome the oppression in our own minds by saying “pretty please”.

hooks missed this.  hooks is showing the oppression in her own mind.

hooks seems very interested in the male role in Beyonce’s story, missing that Jay-Z is only a supporting character in the story of Queen Bey.  Beyoncé cannot control her husband.  She can’t force him to be faithful, respectful, or see her as an equal.  She CAN contextualize her own story in the collective tales of her ancestors, her blood, and realize that her man cheating is an annoyance, not a failure.  She will choose to stay with him or she will choose to tell him to leave her story.  Both of these are valid choices.  Beyoncé has choices because she sees herself as emancipated, and hooks has no right to deny her that.  We have to hope for a point in time when being black in America stops being a psychological handicap.

Beyoncé is standing in her power regardless of what her man did, and that’s an astounding testament of how far all women have come.  It’s a unique achievement for black women, who had to choose between their race and their sex during the second wave of feminism.  Beyoncé is not afraid of her lady parts.  She realizes that only by being whole can she also be powerful.  She is the heroine of her own story.  She’s sharing a spiritual, ancestral road map to move beyond pain, and bell hooks is telling her “not good enough”.

How is this not hooks in the role of oppressor?  The matron telling the younger female that she is not yet a woman, holding her down despite her fame?  Despite her wealth?  Despite everything?  hooks has decided none of this has meaning, and I don’t know what higher power she invokes to believe she has that right.

While hooks is using the white man’s tools — academics, non-fiction writing, and “literature” — Beyoncé is taking her message to the streets, the charts, the sports stadiums, the award shows, the runways, the airwaves, the social networks, and the salons.  hooks is only relevant in this matter because she’s the cranky neighbour who called the cops on the street party.  hooks seems to forget that one day she herself was an upstart poet saying challenging things, perhaps because her skills lie in tearing things down more than building them up.  However, black women today don’t call her “Auntie bell” because she ripped apart the work of white feminists.  They respect the words she gave black women, not the words she took from white women.  Beyoncé is adding to that dictionary and extending it to all women willing to see and hear those words, and that’s a good thing.

Beyoncé is the feminist that the culture needs TODAY.  She couldn’t have gotten to this point without bell hooks, and that’s why it’s especially sad that hooks has decided to extract the lemons from the Lemonade.  Intersectionalism means not missing the sugar and the water that also make up the drink, and hooks is so stuck on the sour notes of violence, domination, and oppression that she’s missing the sweetness and the cleansing nature of Beyoncé expressing the elements of her truths that she wants to share.

This round of artistic truths started with Formation, not Jay-Z’s antics.  How quickly some “academics” forget a woman’s art when there’s a man involved. Lemonade is absolutely made for black women, and that doesn’t change because a black woman is getting paid.

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What The Good Wife Finale Tells Us About The Fault Lines in Modern Feminism

(This article contains spoilers for The Good Wife)

The Good Wife is over. Well, it’s ceased, at least. The final episode of the tawdry legal prime time ode to lying was as confused as it was unsatisfying, a baffling final installment in the story of Alicia Florrick, a stay-at-home mother turned high-powered lawyer in a marriage of convenience to the resoundingly corrupt politician Peter Florrick. For some reason, the creators of The Good Wife decided to end the story of a character who literally replaced God with Gloria Steinem by defining her by her relationships with three men, destroying her most prominent friendship with a woman, and leaving her with nothing.

It is, unintentionally, a perfect summary of the victim complex that has bogged down modern feminism.

The Good Wife was, on the whole, a sharp, cleverly-written, well-acted show, but it was a show about a woman who seems incapable of ever really owning her shit despite having a fairly financially comfortable life. Despite a massive gap in her resume and an apparent refusal to take any money from her cheating bastard husband, Alicia always lived in a posh, spacious Chicago apartment, wore fabulous designer clothes, and drank copious amounts of expensive red wine. Her kids went to private school. Her hair was always fabulous. And her biggest problem always seemed to be boys. That was a fine place for her character to start, based on her back story, but the fact that she never evolved beyond that belied the show’s undeniable tendency to leverage the current feminist fad for relevance.

Alicia’s solution to the problem of her corrupt, cheating husband was to sleep with her corrupt boss, Will Gardner. She’s rich, so that doesn’t have the “sleep your way to the middle” consequences it would have for a less wealthy woman. It does, however, make her corrupt cheating husband jealous, and drama ensues, like the Governor of Illinois and his wife are still in high school… because emotionally they are.

When her boss gets killed, she temporarily goes back to sleeping with her husband, only to stop that again when some dreamy boy toys started offering her other options again. She finally decides she likes one, Jason, only to have some adolescent-worthy meltdown because he bought her a gag gift of land on Mars.

What Alicia never does is take time to be alone, get her bearings, figure out who she is and what she wants, and then make conscious choices about her life based on those desired outcomes. Instead, she neglects her children, ruins her own life supporting her undeserving husband’s ambitions, possibly lets the one truly decent guy she’s ever met realize she’s emotionally immature and perhaps crazy, and continues to moon over a dead guy who was possibly the only non-sociopathic guy on the whole show who was a more selfish bastard than her husband. Oh and she drinks. A lot.

What Alicia Florrick never actually did was grow the hell up, and in not doing so, she fell short of the basic feminist principle that adult women are the equals of adult men. When you’re taking life advice from the memory of your on-again, off-again sex partner, you are not thinking for yourself and therefore not an adult. The show’s creators have said that Alicia’s arc is from “victim to victimizer”, which is not feminism. It’s a cycle of abuse with Gloria Steinem cameos.

The series ends with Alicia publicly humiliating her would-be partner, Diane, by exposing an apparent affair by Diane’s husband. Alicia justifies this by insisting it’s defending her client, but her client is her own husband, so there was a massive conflict of interest in Alicia’s decisions. Like so many of Alicia’s decisions, surface strength is undermined by deeper bad decisions.

I don’t buy that Alicia humiliated her former friend and mentor and embarrassed her gun expert husband on the witness stand just because she was defending her client. She did it because that client was the father of her children, and she was panicking because her daughter, Grace, was going to delay college if Peter went to jail. That was actually believable, because Grace ended up parenting her parents a lot; it’s the way of children of emotional train wrecks.

To me, Alicia didn’t stay with Peter because of his career or their kids. She stayed with him because she never learned to be accountable for her own choices, and he was easy to blame when it all went wrong.  She fell for Will because he was safely emotionally unavailable, just like her, and that only seemed to become love after he died.

It’s so very easy to love a dead man. Dead men will never disappoint you the way living ones will, because they stay frozen in time as a collection of your best memories of them. Will is play pretend, like most of Alicia’s dishonest life.

And that’s the problem with popular modern feminism: actual principles of equality are hard, and many women who self-identify as feminists take the easy way out when it’s time to do that hard work. They never get over being a victim, so they become victimizers. Activism is full of victimizers. This isn’t exclusive to feminism, but… let’s face it, it’s something we do have to address. Unfortunately, the media isn’t quite ready to shake off its love of weepy women brought low for drama. What we need to see more of is women who get knocked down and get back up, but is white Hollywood prepared to do that? Even Madam Secretary became more about the struggles of her husband as the first season progressed, so I’m not seeing much evidence of those “woman up off the mat” narratives outside of Empire. Cookie is pretty badass.

The problem with The Good Wife finale is that it ends on Alicia being knocked down, not with her getting back up. She is literally smacked in the face. By Diane.

For me, that smack rang out as a metaphor for women of the second wave telling the spoiled brats of the third-ish-going-on-fourth wave of feminism to stop squandering what they fought for. Yes, there is work to do. Yes, the system is still unfair. But if you’re rich, beautiful and healthy, and you’re still unhappy… sister, you have no one to blame for that but yourself. At the end of it, Alicia’s problem wasn’t Peter. It wasn’t Will. It wasn’t Jason. It was Alicia. Her idea of being “good” meant being dishonest, and she even lied to herself. Sure, everyone on The Good Wife lied. But what separated characters like Eli Gold from Peter and Alicia is that Eli was completely self aware that he was a liar. He was capable of telling the truth. Peter and Alicia lied so much, for so long, they forgot they were lying, so Alicia spent the time between Peter’s convictions in emotional suspended animation.

“Saint Alicia”, as her public persona was called on the show, was a televised embodiment of the virgin/whore dichotomy, but when Alicia got away from being a woman, she was a pretty smart lawyer. The courtroom was where Alicia stopped being “The Good Wife” or “The Bad Girl”. Court was where she was her best self, and that’s what makes her series’ end so tragic – her worlds collided and came crashing down when she played the role of Peter’s wife in the one place she’d previously been free of that. It’s not Alicia’s fault that Diane’s husband cheated. It is her fault that she had so little empathy for Diane, especially because she’d been through that public humiliation herself.

The fact that the contrasting slaps that began and ended the series were Alicia slapping Peter and Diane slapping Alicia indicate that the partnership that mattered the most to Diane was her plans for her female-led firm. Otherwise, she’d have slapped her husband, not her legal partner. Alicia didn’t understand that because she never learned to really care about anyone outside of the domestic paradigm… even if Alicia’s brand of domesticity involved trysts and booze. It’s probably an accident that Alicia’s two friends on the series – Kalinda and Lucca – were both women of color, but perhaps it’s an unintentional character point as well. What does that say about her? I’m still thinking about that.

More clear, however, is that Diane gets Alicia alone because Alicia had been literally chasing a boy – a man she thought was Jason but turned out wasn’t. I can’t say that Alicia had the wrong priorities chasing boys, because if she wanted to be a wife, first and foremost, that would be fine. The problem is that Alicia really had no firm priorities other than Peter, and Peter’s priority was also Peter, so Alicia was left with nothing.

A truly feminist show wouldn’t tie things up in a neat little bow at the end, but the only way The Good Wife can be viewed as feminist is as feminist cautionary tale of what happens when a woman doesn’t learn to stand on her own. The surprise on Alicia’s face when Diane smacked her told me that she’d not only learned little except how to lie better, but that she had, in fact, regressed into those lies. I mean, she was so deluded that her own self talk came in the form of her dead boyfriend. Even in her own head, a man was telling her what to do.

Delusion isn’t feminist. Delusion is nothing but delusion. If The Good Wife is, as the creators say, a show about lying where the victim becomes the victimizer, then what does that say about Alicia’s replacement of religion with feminism? Is feminism her atheist opiate? Or was even her feminism a lie? I think it’s the latter: feminism was methadone, because Peter was as bad for her as heroine. As long as she could lie to herself that being a career woman could make her happy, she could resist his sleazeball charms. But when it really came down to it, when he whistled, she always came running. The only thing that broke that spell was another man. For Alicia, Gloria Steinem was a false prophet: what Alicia really wanted was male approval, because she didn’t approve of herself. Feminism is supposed to empower women to stand on their own. Alicia’s didn’t give her that. How many self-described feminists fall into the same trap: the trappings of women’s liberation without the bravery to truly be free?

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Why Frank Cho’s Work is Feminist

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You may have noticed that there’s something of an ongoing brouhaha surrounding the work of comic book artist and writer Frank Cho. It seems every time he does something involving a woman these days, someone screams. It’s fashionable to label Frank a misogynist over some parody covers, but I know the guy, both personally and professionally, and the dude can be in a room full of naked women and keep his eyes on their faces unless there’s a punchline to be had.

I know this because I’ve actually been in a room with Frank involving multiple naked women. He was a guest on Ed and Red’s Night Party. We had him draw Dean, the pig character from Liberty Meadows, on a topless woman’s back. It was meta, get it? It’s also really damned hard to create art on a surface at isn’t flat, or even uniform.

Another funny, spur of the moment thing happened on that show. For the episode, I cosplayed Brandy from Liberty Meadows, and we got a “Beltsville” t-shirt screen printed from a place down the street. Unfortunately, said shirt was proportioned for a woman who was a B-cup, and when I put it on, the screen printed letters tore, leaving white marks wherever the shirt’s weave had caused a faultline. It looked like crap, so we turned it into content. We had Frank fill in the white parts of the letters with sharpie, because he was a “professional”.

This, it turned out, left black sharpie marks on the white bra I was wearing underneath the shirt, because the marker bled. Frank, being Frank, turned those spots into eyeballs, so that I could look back at guys staring at my chest.

That’s the Frank Cho I know: funny, clever, appreciative of other people’s work, and very much aware that women who look a certain way get treated like we don’t have faces.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to provide another side to the whole “Frank Cho is a misogynist” thing that isn’t just more angry shouting, but I just keep coming back to personal memories involving Frank and his work. I still remember the first time I saw a Liberty Meadows book, in Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles. I bought it because I’m a sucker for cartoon animals, but also because it was the story of a busty woman who had no idea how attractive she was, and the short nerdy vet who harboured a secret love for her.

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Brandy was like no other woman in comics I’d ever encountered. She wasn’t a superhero. She was goofy and klutzy. She was insecure about her weight. And she was in on the various zany jokes instead of being the typical killer of fun. Liberty Meadows was a combination of all the great parts of the Sunday funnies page without the horrible elements – the constant digs at Cathy in various Liberty Meadows strips showed that I wasn’t alone in my annoyance at that level of female neurosis.

Liberty Meadows was elegant, silly, smart, and fun. It was a comic strip that allowed its female lead to be beautiful, flawed, slapstick, smart and fun all at the same time, and that was something I desperately needed as a woman trying to find my place in television comedy. Throughout my career, I have run into various brick walls because most media properties don’t allow women to be all these things at once. In fact, it’s usually a paradigm of “Smart, glamorous, or funny. Pick two.” Call it the “Big Bang Triangle” if you will. Penny is funny and and object of desire, but she’s a waitress when everyone else is a scientist. Amy, on the other hand, is funny and smart, but dressed deliberately dumpy. Bernadette, similarly, has an affected voice and thick glasses so that she’s not TOO pretty, or TOO smart, because she plays up the funny. The media considers it unfeminine if a woman is TOO MUCH.

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Frank Cho doesn’t sacrifice a woman’s beauty or sexuality for intelligence or the ability to take part in comedy, and I love him for that. His parody covers are continuing his tradition in this regard, and people who claim they’re misogynist are just flat out wrong. If anything, they’re poking fun at how freaked out our society gets over boobs. Try living with a gigantic pair: you realize how absurd it is the first time you get smacked in the face with your own breast. Yes. This has happened to me more than once.

Feminism isn’t about protecting women from the big bad world or putting us on an unnatural pedestal.  Feminism is about equality between men and women.  So essentially, if Deadpool is allowed to do it, some female character should have license to do it too.

Men are allowed to be naked, loud and obscene for the sake of comedy. Look at South Park, Family Guy, and Seth Rogan’s stuff. Frank Cho is one of the few creators out there who dares to let women be the star in that kind of comedy, instead of the disapproving wife/mom or the object of sexual conquest. Frank draws women who laugh at themselves, and the ridiculousness of the current nerd paradigm, without making these women seem like the kind of women the world laughs at too. He gives us license to laugh at ourselves in a world that conspires to tear down our self esteem.

And if that isn’t progressive; if that isn’t FEMINIST; I don’t know what is.

(PS: if this article does well enough, I’ll tell the behind the scenes story of where those pics of Frank signing my butt came from.)

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